The diverse landscape of Oahu offers a wide variety of hikes, each one as stunning as the last.
From picturesque views of turquoise water to stunning waterfalls and lush tropical forests, there is a trail on Oahu to please every type of outdoor enthusiast and hikers of all skill levels. The best part? Working them into a day full of other adventures is a cinch. All quadrants of the island have a hike to offer tourists and locals alike, as well as sights to see and food to devour. Whether it is a quick sweat session followed by some fun in the sun or a longer, more strenuous workout with pupus to punctuate the day, there is something for everyone on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Oahu.
1. Koko Head Crater Trail
Koko Head Crater Trail, one of the most strenuous island hikes, is a former railway turned hike that is not for the faint of heart. Comprised of over 1,000 railway ties arranged like stairs, this 1.5-mile roundtrip trek will test the endurance of even the most avid hikers with steep inclines and a portion that acts as a bridge, as the under footing has completely eroded. The panoramic views of Hanauma Bay, Hawaii Kai, and Makapu’u make this hike worth it. The wide “stairs” offer plenty of space to step off to the side for a water break and it’s not uncommon to see children and runners frequenting this trail—it’s popular! Try to get here before it gets too hot, and be sure to pack plenty of water. When finished, head into Kaimuki, a suburb of Honolulu, for brunch at Koko Head Cafe (headed up by Top Chef alum Lee Ann Wong) and stay awhile to browse at Sugarcane Shop, a local boutique that sources gifts and souvenirs from local artists.
2. Lanikai Pillboxes
Located on the east side of Oahu, Lanikai Pillboxes is a short hike that offers screensaver-worthy views of turquoise water and white sandy beaches throughout. The one-mile roundtrip trail starts with a steep vertical incline, then hits relatively flat terrain followed by a hilly peak before reaching the summit marked by two "pillboxes" (former military bunkers). Views at the top extend over Kailua and Lanikai Beaches, some of the best the windward side of Oahu has to offer, with the Mokulua Islands dotting the backdrop. Because the entrance to this hike is buried within a residential neighborhood across from the Mid Pacific Country Club, parking can be tricky, so adhere to the no-parking signs and be respectful of homeowners' driveways. The Pillboxes put you in a prime location for venturing into Kailua Town for post-hike light bites at the Kalapawai Café (be sure to order the browned-butter salted chocolate chip cookie for later), followed by shave ice, a Hawaiian staple, at President Obama’s favorite haunt, Island Snow.
3. Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail
Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail’s fully paved incline makes it stroller-friendly and easy to navigate without worrying about footing, but the cliffs are steep at points, and the trail doesn’t have guardrails, so little ones have to be watched closely if they’re on their own two feet. A lookout point on the way up offers information about viewing the humpback whale migration, which occurs from November through early spring. There’s a viewing scope, but pack a pair of binoculars to increase your chances of seeing a whale or other wildlife. Views of Makapu’u Lighthouse and Koko Head greet hikers who navigate the mile to the very top, and on clear days, neighboring islands Molokai and Lanai can be visible in the distance. When you’re back at sea level, make a right out of the Makapu’u parking area, drive the coastal highway into Waimanalo for burritos at Serg’s Mexican Kitchen or a vegan plate from Ai Love Nalo, and enjoy your well-earned grub right on Waimanalo Beach, which is consistently ranked one of America’s best beaches.
4. Ehukai Pillbox Hike
A short uphill hike, the Ehukai Pillbox is distinguished by the historic World War II bunkers on Oahu’s North Shore. The path’s entrance is located across the street from Sunset Beach and a muddy trail with a few built-in stairs that lead to captivating views of the famed Banzai Pipeline, where surfers like Kelly Slater and John John Florence ride the waves each winter. A painted picnic bench makes for a good water break stop before heading up to the first bunker, where the forest opens up to unobstructed ocean views. For those continuing to the second pillbox, a giant peace sign painted on a rock marks the spot where soldiers would watch for enemy ships during World War II. The incline on this 1.5-mile roundtrip hike is enough to make it slightly strenuous, so be sure to stop by Ted’s Bakery to refuel. Grab a slice of the famous haupia pie and take it across the street to eat on the sand before continuing on to explore Turtle Bay Resort, where Forgetting Sarah Marshall was filmed.
5. Aiea Loop Trail
The Aiea Loop Trail is an easy-to-moderate trail that clocks in at just under five miles and overlooks Honolulu and the surrounding neighborhoods. Mostly covered by lush foliage, the trail meanders through slight elevation changes and is a good choice for a more shaded experience. Part of the greater Keaiwa Heiau State Park (open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 6:45 p.m.), the Loop also leads to Kalauao Falls, which can be accessed via a side trail, an option for more experienced hikers who can easily navigate steep inclines. The trailhead is centrally located on the island, which makes it a great option before or after visiting Pearl Harbor (advance reservations recommended). On the way back toward Honolulu on Nimitz Highway, stop at La Tour Cafe for a crispy chicken sandwich, then try a coco puff, a cream-filled pastry that all the locals rave about, a half-mile down the road at Liliha Bakery. Drive just a bit further into the up-and-coming neighborhood of Kaka’ako to explore the hand-painted murals by local artists that are refreshed annually.
6. Waimea Falls Park + Botanical Garden
Hikers of all levels can enjoy Waimea Falls (open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; $17 for adults, discounted admission for seniors, children, and military), a tropical park that boasts a botanical garden and waterfall, located across the street from Waimea Bay. Around two miles out and back, the lush flora and fauna of Oahu surround a simple walking trail that leads to the 30-foot waterfall. A run-off pool below offers visitors the opportunity to cool off and take a dip under lifeguard supervision. Exhibit signs along the trail provide guests the opportunity to learn about the plants and history of Waimea Valley. After visiting the waterfall, head a half-mile up the road to snorkel or dive at Shark’s Cove, one of the best spots on the island for spotting marine life. Before heading out, walk across the street to grab a fresh poke bowl or Tsunami Sandwich from Aji Limo Food Truck, then relax on the sand to catch the sunset at Waimea Bay.